Jan 252024

Sculptor Lesley I. Jervis (born Oct 1943, in Stoke-on-Trent, UK) and her then husband Bruce Robert Sherratt, an artist and art educator, lived in Jocotepec at the western end of Lake Chapala from 1968 to 1970. Prior to their arrival in Mexico, they had lived and traveled for some time in the USA.

Jervis and her husband studied at the Newcastle School of Art in Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, before moving to London where they married in 1963. Jervis, the secretary of the school’s Art Sketch Club, was in a collective exhibit at the school in 1962.

When they traveled to Mexico, the couple fulfilled one of Bruce Sherratt’s youthful ambitions to explore different cultures; and it was in Mexico where Sherratt gradually established his own identity as a surrealist painter, “hypnotized by the Aztec, Mayan and Toltec mythology.”

In Jocotepec the young couple rented a huge house called “El Kiosko”, “with spectacular views of the entire lake”, set up their studio, and got to work. Sherratt describes them as “hermits”, obsessed by their work: “We were very serious, determined to develop our work and we were very ambitious.” They had relatively little connection to the Lakeside art scene of the time, though they did frequent Ramón’s bar on the plaza and got to know Jocotepec artists (Don) Shaw and John Frost.

While I’m not entirely certain, I suspect that this acrylic on canvas painting signed “L. Sherratt”, titled “Blue Nude,” which sold in 2013 at Schwenke Auctioneers in Woodbury, Connecticut, may be an example of her work:

L Sherratt. Date unknown. "Blue Nude." Credit: Schwenke Auctioneers.

L Sherratt. Date unknown. “Blue Nude.” Credit: Schwenke Auctioneers.

Lesley Sherratt and her then husband showed works at the Easter art show at Posada Ajijic in March 1970, alongside John K. Peterson, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, (Don) Shaw, and John Frost.

In June 1970, as Lesley Jervis Maddock (‘Maddock’ was her mother’s maiden name), her work was in a group exhibit at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense in Guadalajara. Other artists participating in this show, besides her husband, included Peter Paul Huf, John Frost, Mario Aluta, Daphne Aluta, Chester Vincent, Gustave Aranguren, Hector Navarro, and Willi Hartung.

The following month (July 1970) the Anglo Mexican Institute in Mexico City held a joint show of paintings by Bruce Sherratt and sculptures by ‘Maddock.’ This show in Mexico City was apparently at the encouragement of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.


  • El Informador, 5 June 1970; 10 May 1971; 16 May 1971.
  • Evening Sentinel (Stoke on Trent), 21 Sep 1963, 8.
  • Guadalajara Reporter, 21 Mar 1970; 13 June 1970.
  • Justino Fernández. 1971. Catálogo de las Exposiciones de Arte en el año 1970. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Mexico.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Apr 062023

The sculptor (María) Leticia Moreno Buenrostro (1930-2016) began her artistic career as a child. Moreno was born in Tizapán el Alto on the southern shore of Lake Chapala on 30 November 1930. Her grandfather and one of her uncles had apiaries, and Moreno used to take some of the wax to model small figurines of animals: horses, dogs and cats. She later began to make human forms by carving sticks she found in her own garden.

Moreno entered the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (San Carlos) in Mexico City in 1953, and graduated from that institution in 1957. She was awarded a Masters in Fine Arts in 1960 and taught wood sculpting at the Escuela Nacional for fifty years before retiring in 2009. Several of her students have gone on to become professional sculptors.

Tizapan el Alto

Moreno produced 61 major wood sculptures during her career. Because she chose to live for her art, not from her art, she exhibited only infrequently. Her major shows, all in Mexico City, were at the Bienal de Escultura del Museo de Arte Moderno (1979), the Museo Universitario del Chopo and the Academia de San Carlos. Moreno was awarded a second place medal in a competition among the teachers in the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas.

In 1990, Moreno was commissioned to design a coat-of-arms for her native town, Tizapán del Alto. Below the name (derived from “place of Tizatl, where the river passes”) is a circle adorned with blue green feathers, from which protrude six obsidian-tipped arrows. The central area of the shield includes a representation of the Río de la Pasión entering Lake Chapala, along with two stylized buildings made of reeds and thatch, with a line of footsteps indicating the long journey made by the town’s ancestors to reach this idyllic location.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Chapter 4 of Lake Chapala: A Postcard History is devoted to the early history and importance of Tizapán el Alto and the southern shore of Lake Chapala.


Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jul 222021

Austrian sculptor Leonie Trager lived and worked in the Lake Chapala area in the early 1970s. She held a solo exhibition in the Galería del Lago, Ajijic, in 1973, when she was living in Chula Vista (mid-way between Ajijic and Chapala).

Leonie Trager: Exhibit invitation, 1973

Leonie Trager: Exhibit invitation, 1973

The catalog for that exhibition includes a brief biography stating that she had graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria and had “worked with great sculptor Ivan Mestrovic” in Dubrovnik (Croatia, then Yugoslavia). She apparently held several solo shows in London, UK, and also exhibited in the New York area, while her works were prized by private collectors in the USA and elsewhere.

Very few of her pieces have appeared at auction.

Her solo exhibit in Ajijic opened on 22 April 1973 and was comprised of 32 works, mainly sculpted in clay, but also using willow, jacaranda, pink alabaster, yellow Carrara marble, Indian jade, mimosa and mahogany. Titles of pieces exhibited on that occasion include “Moondance”, “Snowflake”, “Sensuousness”, “Sleeping Boy”, “Flower Girl”, “Tzaddik”, “Satyr”, “Cleopatra”, “Flight” and “Despair”.

Her “Mothers and Daughters” limestone sculpture (see image below), reported to be 14″ in height, was also shown in that show.

Leonie Trager: Mothers and daughters

Leonie Trager: Mothers and daughters. Limestone. Exhibited in 1973.

Very little is currently known about Leonie Trager’s personal life. According to her gravestone in Tucson, Trager was born in 1922 (presumably in Vienna, Austria) and died in 1984.

Her husband was Hanns Trager (1900-1989). Hanns was born in Vienna on 25 April 1900 and was living in London, UK, in 1939, where he was working as a textile salesman.

In June 1940, shortly after the start of the second world war, Hanns was subject to an internment hearing . He declined the offer of repatriation and, to avoid internment, was shipped off to Australia on the SS Dunera. He appears to have remained in Australia until the end of the war in 1945, when he returned to London to be temporarily interned on arrival.

The following year he married Leopoldine (“Leonie”) Trager in Hampstead. In August 1948 the couple left the UK for New York, on board the Queen Elizabeth, with 2 trunks and 13 suitcases between them, to start a new life in the USA. By then Hanns was describing himself as a designer.

It is unclear whether or not Hanns accompanied Leonie during her time living in Mexico. The couple were certainly traveling together when they returned from Venezuela to the port of Baltimore in 1960. Hanns’ last known address was in Tucson, Arizona.

This is an updated version of a post first published on 16 July 2015.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Aug 272020

Margaretha (Margaret) Van Gurp, a well known artist from eastern Canada, was born in Delft, Netherlands, 6 December 1926. She moved to Canada in 1953.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

In 1983, she spent three weeks with Susan Van Gurp, one of her daughters, in Jocotepec, Mexico. Susan Van Gurp was teaching at the Lakeside School for the Deaf, now the Centro de Atención Multiple Gallaudet (“Gallaudet Special Education Center”), from 1982 to 1984.

During Margaretha Van Gurp’s visit, she completed  a series of pen and ink drawings of the students at the school, as well as of other people in the town.

Margaret Van Gurp. Viviana.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Viviana.

Margaretha Van Gurp also painted several charming watercolors of life in the town.

Margaret Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Margaretha Van Gurp: Watercolor of Jocotepec (1983)

Van Gurp’s early art education (1945-1947) was under Gillis van Oosten in Delft, Netherlands. She also took courses at the College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, studied portrait sculpture in clay under Allison McNeil, and (1980) studied portraiture under David Leffel and Robert Philipp at the Art Students League of New York in the U.S. Her art has been widely shown in Eastern Canada.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaretha Van Gurp. Jocotepec.

Margaret Van Gurp has also illustrated books, such as Acadian Awakenings, and sculpted and painted mannequin heads for Parks Canada exhibits at several locations, including Castle Hill, Newfoundland; Citadel Hill Museum, Halifax; and Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

After a remarkable artistic career, Margaret Van Gurp died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 14 August 2020. We extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

To learn more about this artist:

Note: the earliest version of this post was published on 18 December 2014.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Mar 122020

American couple Jim and Gloria Marthai took early retirement and moved to Ajijic in 1969. After 5 years there, they opted out of its bright lights in favor of the small village of San Pedro Tesistán on the south side of the lake. Very very few foreign residents have chosen to live in San Pedro; the Marthais lived there 15 years, enjoying the simple life and rural surroundings. Gloria, a keen rider, made regular forays on her horse to nearby villages and to the higher elevations behind their home, including the summit of the volcanic peak Cerro García, the highest point around the lake.

The Marthais’ lifestyle and willingness to learn Spanish enabled them to take an active part in village life and they quickly gained friends and became well integrated into their adopted community.

The couple later moved to the Roca Azul subdivision on the outskirts of Jocotepec.

James Louis Marthai (born in New York City on 22 November 1918) had first met Gloria (born in Canton, Ohio, on 7 September 1928) in California, where they both worked for General Dynamics Corporation, and married in Nevada on 28 June 1958.

The Marthais spent the first six years of their early retirement cruising the Bahamas and the U.S. east coast aboard their private 43-foot classic Elko cruiser.

After returning to live on land in Mexico in 1969, Jim Marthai developed his skills in poetry, sculpture, ivory carving and jewelry design.

He read some of his original poems at a Sunday evening of music and poetry held in 1971 at the home of Aileen Melby, a poet and children’s author, and her husband, Arthur. Jules Rubinstein and Katie Ingram also read poems at that informal soirée.

James Marthai. Drawing used for charity card in aid of Amigos de Salud.

James Marthai. 1977. Drawing used for charity card in aid of Amigos de Salud.

Jim was an accomplished sculptor, carver-especially of miniatures-and jeweler, using raw materials that varied from ebony and bone to walrus tusks and precious metals. He also made one-of-a-kind hunting knives.

Gloria immersed herself in Mexico and her experiences were the basis for a series of stories written for Mexconnect, El Ojo del Lago and the Lake Chapala Review. She contributed several pieces to Aguas Marías: Border Crossers, Boundary Breakers, a compilation of writings by 10 American and Canadian women living at Lake Chapala. Her one-paragraph bio in that book summed up her motivation to write:

“When I came to Mexico in 1969, I entered a time warp. It was the United States 100 years ago, a land of the horse. I was, and still am, intrigued and inspired by this country. I studied Spanish and bought my first horse early on, which led to easy assimilation into rural village life and an endless trail of adventure. How could I not write about it? Besides, I like tequila.”

In addition, she made made artistic shirts, mosaics and unusual decorative mobiles, frequently using bone and recycled materials.

Both Jim and Gloria Marthai had artwork exhibited in a show in October 1976 entitled “Arts and Crafts of Lake Chapala”, held at the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara and organized by the Jalisco State government. Other Lakeside artists in that show included Antonio Cardenas; Conrado Contreras; Manuel Flores; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Guillermo Gómez Vázquez; Antonio López Vega; Julia Michel [Gail Michel]; Bert Miller; Dionisio Morales; and Georg Rauch.

The following month, Gloria’s “bone mobiles” and Jim’s “crafted jewelry” were on sale at an Art and Craft Bazaar organized in Ajijic by Galería del Lago. Gallery manager Katie Goodridge Ingram, subsequently included Jim’s work in a show she organized for the Jalisco Fine Arts and Tourism departments in Puerto Vallarta. (That show also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; Georg Rauch; and Sylvia Salmi.)

In 1977, Jim Marthai’s drawing of a village scene (image) was used for the Amigos de Salud charity cards, available in either color or black and white. That same year Marthai illustrated The Before and After Dinner Cookbook, written by two Lakeside residents, Charlotte McNamara and Lenore Howell.

Jim Marthai died in Mexico on 14 March 2005; his wife, Gloria, passed away on 11 November 2011.

In a strange twist of horsehair, Jim Marthai’s legacy still lives on in the small town of Cajititlán, mid-way between Chapala and Guadalajara, where several families make hand-woven belts, sashes and bands for charro hats from long strands of horsehair. It was Marthai who first taught the techniques to a local woman, Consuelo Cervantes, and her son Diego in the early 1980s. She has since taught others. The unusual and ingenious handicrafts are sold at rodeos and charro events.


My thanks to Phyllis Rauch for sharing her fond memories of Jim and Gloria Marthai.


  • Colony (Guadalajara) Reporter: 6 Feb 1971; 20 March 1971; 30 Oct 1976, 23; 8 Oct 1977, 18; 18 November 2011.
  • El Informador: 25 Oct 1976.
  • Charlotte McNamara and Lenore Howell. 1977. The Before and After Dinner Cookbook (illustrations by James L. Marthai). Atheneum.
  • Ojo del Lago: November 1987.
  • John Pint. 2012. “Mexican artisans of Lake Cajititlan.” MexConnect.com. 18 May 2012.  [25 March 2019]

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Feb 132020

Artists Violette Mège (1889-1968) and her husband, Michael Baxte (1900-1972), lived in Mexico City for decades and visited Ajijic several times during the 1940s.

Mège and her husband were near neighbors in Mexico City of Helen Kirtland and her family. After her marriage ended, Kirtland moved to Ajijic with her three young children and founded Telares Ajijic. Her only daughter, Katie Goodridge Ingram, author of According to Soledad, a memoir about her childhood in Mexico City and Ajijic, has clear memories of Mège and Baxte visiting Ajijic over the winters of 1945 and 1946, where they shared a “cottage” owned by Louis Stephens, a mutual Mexico City friend.

Violette Mege. Lavandera de Ajijic (El Nacional, 1954)

Violette Mege. Lavandera de Ajijic (El Nacional, 1954)

Violette Clarisse Mège (or variants Mege and Mége) was born in Algeria in 1889. When she became the first woman to win a prestigious Beaux Art competition in Algeria in 1914, the organizers only awarded her the scholarship after the French government intervened on her behalf.

Mège had work exhibited in a group show in Paris in 1916 at the Latin Quarter Association. After winning the Beaux Art scholarship for a second time, she decided to broaden her horizons and used the prize money to travel to New York with her younger sister, Emma, in 1916.

Her New York trip proved to be a pivotal moment in her life. She fell in love with Michael Posner Baxte, an up-and-coming violinist and composer. The couple briefly visited Mège’s homeland before settling in Manhattan, New York, where they married in 1920.

Mège held a solo show of her paintings at The Touchstone galleries in New York in 1917. A critic described this as “an exhibition of singular attraction by a very bold student of color, Violet Mege, an Algerian who paints her native land, showing rich color effects where light is not toned by shadow, her shadows being almost negligible in values. Her figure work is good, especially in the portrait of a woman and a violinist.” The violinist was, presumably, Michael Baxte.

Violette Mege. Still life. (Auctioned by Black Rock Galleries in 2013)

Violette Mège. Still life. (Auctioned by Black Rock Galleries in 2013)

Her work was also praised in a group show the following year at the Macdowell Club: “The spirit of the manners and customs, as well as the costumes of the strange people pictured by her is quaintly and withal pleasingly worked out. Sometimes her work halts before it should, but is particularly noteworthy in its freshness and excellent coloring. Miss Mege is not always so good in her rendering of flowers.”

Mège had paintings of Algeria and of a Cypress tree in New York included in the Third Annual Exhibition of The Society of Independent Artists at the Waldorf Astoria in New York in 1919.

Inspired by his wife, Baxte began to paint. Mège was his only teacher, and he was her only student. Her classes and encouragement paid off a decade later when Baxte was chosen as one of the two winners in the Dudensing National Competition for American Painters.

For the next decade, Mège devoted herself to teaching her husband to paint and helping him refine his techniques. According to a 1930 newspaper account, she rarely painted during this time, and it was only after her husband’s work was widely acclaimed that she “she picked up her palette and brushes where she had laid them down on marriage.”

In 1930 she held a solo exhibit at the Delphic Studios in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The couple lived in France during the 1930s. They left when the second world war began and, by 1941, had moved to Mexico, where Mège exhibited her paintings, including a portrait of her husband Michael Baxte and several of Michoacán, at Galeria de Arte y Decoración the following year. Mège and her husband had a home (later owned by Rufino Tamayo) in Coyoacán and traveled to various parts of Mexico. Many of their paintings show landscapes and people in Michoacán and western Mexico.

As in the case of her painting “Lavandera de Ajijic”, exhibited in Mexico City in 1954 and reproduced in El Nacional, Mège often signed paintings using only her surname. This painting was shown, alongside work of her husband, in an exhibition of 20 non-Mexican artists from 12 regions of Mexico at the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana in Mexico City. The El Nacional’s art critic was less than generous in his appreciation of the couple’s work, writing that though “the works of Mège and her husband display some well-observed Mexican aspects,” neither “had a strong sense of color.”

Mège died in Mexico City on 11 May 1968 at the age of 69.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.


My thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing her memories of the artist with me.


  • American Art News. 1916. “Paris Letter.” American Art News, Vol. 14, #33 (10 May 1916).
  • Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan). 1930. Battle Creek Enquirer 4 May 1930, 26.
  • Michael Baxte. 1942. “Violette Mége.” Mexican Life, v 18 (October 1942).
  • P. Fernandez Marquez. 1954. “La Exposicón de Artistas Huéspedes.” El Nacional, 1954; Suplemento Dominical, 6.
  • The International Studio: an Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art. 1918. (November 1917-February 1918).
  • The Evening World (New York), 2 December 1918, 11.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 192019

Accomplished amateur artist Sid Miller painted and sculpted in Ajijic from 1982 to shortly before his death in 1998. His work was included in numerous local exhibitions, alongside that of friends such as Georg Rauch and Peter and Carole D’Addio.

Miller was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1912 to a Lithuanian Jewish couple who had met in New York; he was the youngest of six children. To help pay his tuition while studying politics and history at Brooklyn College, he made stained glass vent covers. When revisiting Brooklyn almost thirty years later in 1961, he was delighted to see that many of his decorative vents were still in place.

He was also a fine musician who, in his youth, played the clarinet and saxophone in jazz bands. While still in his twenties, Miller had played in bands on Hudson River boats, as well as in the Catskills and the Caribbean.

Miller met his future wife on a blind date in San Francisco in 1944, while awaiting being shipped out to Japan. She was a teacher, born in Detroit to parents of Hungarian heritage. They married three weeks later, barely a week before he left San Francisco to serve in Japan for 18 months.

The departure for the Far East was somewhat unexpected given that Miller had been preparing originally for a mission in Spain by taking intensive Spanish classes. The Spanish he acquired at this time proved to be extremely useful later in his life when he created a life in Mexico.

During his time in Asia, Miller sent regular letters back home, decorated with informal drawings. (This brings to mind the charming decorated envelopes used by Tink Strother when writing to her husband, Vane, while he was serving in the U.S. military.)

It was while serving with the U.S. Air Corps in the Pacific, in New Guinea, that Miller first began to carve wooden sculptures, selecting the female form as his preferred subject matter. Some of these sculptures, especially the ones of mother and child, are beautifully observed and executed.

After is safe return from the war, Miller and his wife settled in the San Fernando Valley, where he slowly built up a career, graduating from selling vacuum cleaners to marketing furniture and interior decorative items. Miller eventually established his own independent interior design business. Among his more noteworthy clients were the singer June Wayne (very popular at the time) and O. J. Simpson when he was married to his first wife.

Miller and his wife first visited Mexico in the 1950s, sightseeing in Mexico City and Acapulco. In the early 1970s, they visited Europe. Miller lost his wife, who worked as a teacher at private schools for emotionally disturbed children, owing to an unfortunate accident. A diabetic, she stepped on a tack while barefoot, acquired a serious infection, and died less than a year later in 1978.

Sid Miller and his wife at home in Ajijic.( Courtesy Judy Miller)

Photo of Sid Miller at his home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

Four years losing his wife, Miller moved to Mexico. He lived first in Vista del Lago, the subdivision east of Chapala that attracted a disproportionate number of retired military, before moving to Canacinta, just west of Ajijic. In 1988 he bought a house at the entrance to Villa Nova which he remodeled almost immediately to include a second bedroom and a casita. This home provided a wonderful backdrop for his art and was the perfect place for entertaining.

Sid Miller. Home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

Sid Miller’s own painting of his home in Ajijic. (courtesy Judy Miller)

A short man, Miller had something of the air of a distracted Einstein about him in his later years, an impression only heightened by his disheveled white hair; family photos support this uncanny resemblance.

Miller was an incredibly talented and creative individual. He was never made any effort to commercialize his art and gave away many of his original pieces as gifts to friends and family. Because he used what materials were at hand, including cardboard and off-cuts of wood, some of his work has not aged well. Nowhere is his propensity to use surplus materials more evident than in his highly-original irregular polygonal shapes and frames. Miller never had any formal art training and it took him about six weeks on average to complete one of his sculptures.

Sid Miller. UNtitled abstract. (Courtesy Ricardo Santana)

Sid Miller. Untitled abstract. (Courtesy Ricardo Santana)

Given the choice, he preferred sculpture to painting, saying in an interview in 1986 that he couldn’t paint but had “a natural inclination for the three dimensional figure.” “Sculpting”, he said, “relaxes me, it keeps me alive and young.”

His sculpture exhibits at Lake Chapala included a solo show at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan in March 1989. The accompanying promotional blurb praised his originality: “Sidney is as colorful as his work.”

Miller’s daughter, Judy Miller, retired to Ajijic a few years ago. She is also a distinguished artist whose preferred medium in retirement is pastels. Judy is a Master Circle Pastelist with the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS). Her artistic career, however, was as a ceramicist. After studying at U.C.L.A. and U.C. Berkeley in the early 1970s, she began working as a professional ceramicist, eventually making more than 50,000 hand-colored plates – depicting emotionally-engaged scenes from life – before retiring in 2002. This career stemmed from necessity and serendipity. When she moved into her first apartment, she had no tableware and decided to make her own plates, decorated with scenes from her past.

Both her ceramics and her superb pastels have been featured in numerous exhibits in the U.S. and elsewhere.

For more about her work, please visit her website.


  • My sincere thanks to Judy Miller for graciously sharing family memories with me and showing me many examples of her father’s varied work. My thanks, too, to Ricardo Santana for showing me several works by Sid Miller that are in his private collection.


  • Anon. “Portrait of the Artist”, El Ojo del Lago, April 1986.
  • El Ojo del Lago, March 1989.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Mar 142019

Wes Penn, a highly creative visual artist, lived in Ajijic from 1967 to his death in a vehicle accident three years later. Penn was the fourth husband of Jan Dunlap (“Big Mama”).

William Wesley Penn Jr. was born 11 February 1935 in Big Spring, Howard, Texas. He was the son of the Reverend and Mrs. William W. Penn. Reverend Penn (1913-1988) was a Methodist minister who served in the Navy and was the pastor for a time in Renner, Texas, where, coincidentally, Jan Dunlap spent most of her childhood.

Wes Penn. Mixed media abstract. Untitled. Undated. Collection: Rico Semple.

Wes Penn. Mixed media abstract. Untitled. Undated. (image courtesy of Rico Semple)

Penn attended high school in Commerce, Texas, and gained his first degree from East Texas State College (now known as Texas A&M University–Commerce) in 1959, and had married while living in El Paso, where he was studying for a Masters in Education at the University of El Paso. His younger brother, Paul, an engineer also studied at the University of El Paso. Paul later fell foul of the law in Mexico and was sentenced to a multi-year term in Puente Grande, the penitentiary just outside Guadalajara.

Dunlap met Wes Penn when they were both studying at the University of Texas. They lived in El Paso and New Mexico before deciding to try their luck in Mexico where Penn had friends who lived at Lake Chapala. In the run-up to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, language teachers were in demand and Dunlap, who had four young children in tow, and Penn hoped to support themselves by teaching English.

The family lived for a time in the Mill House at the western extremity of the village. It was difficult to make ends meet and, like many others living in Ajijic at the time, Penn and Dunlap decided to risk driving a stash of weed across the border in order to raise some much-needed funds. They made it back to Ajijic without incident but when Penn went to collect their dog from a friend’s house in Chapala, the timing turned out to be disastrous.

No sooner had he arrived than the police raided the house looking for drugs; everyone present, including Penn, was arrested and locked up overnight in the local jail. Dunlap, meanwhile, had sent son Ricardo to look for her husband. Ricardo returned saying he’s found Penn’s car and that it was still parked in Chapala.

When Dunlap went to collect her husband the following day, she was told that the federales had taken over the case and had moved Penn and the others to Guadalajara. It turned out that they were being held in the same jail as Penn’s brother. Dunlap called in a favor from a friend who had the ear of the state governor and was able to get Penn and the others released in exchange for a substantial contribution of pesos.

Wes Penn. 1966. Collection: Rico Semple.

Wes Penn. 1966. (image courtesy of Rico Semple)

Tragically, Penn was killed on 25 March 1970 when the car he was driving was hit by a bus on the Chapala-Guadalajara highway. Jan and her children remained in Ajijic where she ran a succession of restaurant-bars, boutiques and galleries during the 1970s and 1980s, one of which was named the Wes Penn Gallery in his honor.

Wes Penn worked in a variety of media. As a painter, he specialized in abstracts, many of which leaned towards surrealism.

Penn’s parents were not very appreciative or supportive of their son’s art. Dunlap told me how her father-in-law had once offered her husband $100 for a painting on the grounds that it represented the cost of the materials!

Fortunately, Penn’s fellow artists held him in much higher esteem. For example, his works were exhibited at least once in the renowned Udinotti Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, run by Greek-born poet and painter Agnese Udinotti.


I am deeply indebted to the late Jan Dunlap for sharing her knowledge and memories of Wes Penn, and to Rico Semple for sharing photos of examples of his work.

  • Big Spring Daily Herald, Big Spring, Texas, 13 February 1935, p8
  • Henrietta Clay County Leader, Henrietta, Texas – 11 June 1970

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in this series of mini-bios are welcome. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Dec 062018

There was a wave of positive energy for the arts in Ajijic either side of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and its related cultural activities in Mexico City and Guadalajara. Perhaps the largest single art fair held in Ajijic during these years was the Fiesta de Arte held at Calle 16 de Septiembre #33, the home and garden of art patrons Frances and Ned Windham.

Invitation card for Fiesta de Arte

Invitation card for 1971 Fiesta de Arte

The Fiesta de Arte was held on Saturday 15 May 1971. Planning for the show, originally called the “First Lakeside Artists Fair” was well underway by April. The organizers were John K. Peterson and Peter Huf, who enlisted the help of Beth Avery, Donald Hogan (who as murdered a few months later) and several other artists. They expected about 20 artists to take part.

A week before the show, the advance publicity in the Guadalajara Reporter named 29 artists whose work – paintings, photography, block prints, serigraphs and sculptures – would be on show and said that more than 500 people were expected to attend the one-day event.

Reports after the Fair show that the projected numbers were surpassed. While almost all the exhibitors were foreign artists, there was one especially interesting local artist: Fernando García, a self-taught carver.

García was an employee of Robert de Boton, husband of internationally-acclaimed painter Alice de Boton. When French-born Robert retired from biochemistry, the couple moved to Mexico where Robert began to dabble in carving and sculpture. When García expressed an interest in carving, Robert encouraged him to see what he could do. García worked by candlelight late into the night for several weeks and completed several “small primitives of extraordinary beauty and sensitivity”, all of which sold instantly.

The list of exhibitors at the Fiesta del Art included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Fernando García; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter Huf; Eunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michel; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Frances Showalter; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.


  • Guadalajara Reporter: 3 April 1971; 24 April 1971; 8 May 1971; 22 May 1971; 5 June 1971.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 152018

The charismatic writer and artist Mort Carl, no doubt wearing his accustomed bandana tied in front of his neck, first arrived in Ajijic in the mid-1940s. Not long afterwards he married Helen Kirtland Goodridge; together they established the first weaving business in Ajijic, an enterprise that became known as Telares Ajijic.

Mortimer R. Carl was born into a Jewish family in Cleveland, Ohio, on 26 June 1905. His father, Benjamin Edward Carl (1877-1930), had been born in Ohio and (in 1910) owned or managed a brass company. Mort Carl’s mother, Minnie Rosenblum (1884-1965) had been born in Austro-Hungary and taken by her family to the U.S. as an infant.

The family was presumably fairly well-off since Mort and his mother spent the summer of 1908 in the country. Mort’s brother Norman was born in about 1915.

At the time of the 1930 census, taken only weeks after his father died, Mort, working as an instructor in a gymnasium, was still living with his mother and brother. Two years later, Carl married Theresa (“Terry”) Roth in New York City.

Little is known about Mort’s early life as a writer and artist except that he spent time in Woodstock, New York. He started his creative career as an artist and then tried his hand at writing, before rededicating himself to painting and sculpture.

Even though Carl was a writer, I have identified only one single work by him: Natural Man, copyrighted in the “Dramatic Composition and Motion Pictures” category on 14 March 1941. Prior to visiting Mexico, his artwork had apparently been shown in several exhibits in the U.S., though the only one I have so far confirmed was the 26th Annual Show of Woodstock Art Gallery in August 1945, which included his painting entitled Ballerina.

When Carl first arrived in Ajijic in 1946, he initially stayed, like so many before him, at the small lakeside inn belonging to the Heuer siblings. This is also when he met Helen Kirtland for the first time. (The following year, Kirtland and her three young children moved to Ajijic from Mexico City, after the break-down of her relationship with the children’s father, Ezra Read Goodridge, a dealer in rare books.)

When Mort Carl returned to Woodstock in September 1947 for several months, the local newspaper reported that he had “been in Mexico for the past year, where he was working on a book.”

It is probably his next trip to Mexico that was recounted to me so vividly by Helen Kirtland’s daughter Katie Goodridge Ingram, then a young girl. Ingram recalls that Carl drove down to Ajijic in a “giant black Packard”, “stayed at the Heuers where he said the mattresses were filled with softballs,” and often invited her mother to dine at the Heuers. Ingram and her two siblings were also invited, but ate in a separate room for children; the food was simple, but she still remembers the healthy, hearty soups and the pastry desserts.

Carl Mort. ca 1981. Antiphon.

Carl Mort. Antiphon. c 1981 (installed Chester Public Library. NJ, 1983).

Carl had arrived in Ajijic with a “full-on passion to be the next great novelist, the next great discovery in painting, and passionate to play tennis [and] to teach boxing.” After marrying Helen Kirtland in about 1949, Carl set up his art studio in the family home (today the Mi México store) but continued to rent a “small two-room house with a patio and kitchen area” as a writing studio a couple of blocks away, at the intersection of Calle Constitución and Ramón Corona. From about 1950 to 1952, that building was the always-hopping Club Alacrán (Scorpion Club), run by adventurous Black American artist Ernest Alexander and his Canadian partner Dorothy (“Dolly”) Whelan.

Ingram, who ran an art gallery in Ajijic in the 1970s, saw a lot of Carl’s paintings and says that many of the canvases he completed in Mexico, “had broad, dense strokes that screamed for more real estate,” but that. later, after divorcing Helen Kirtland, remarrying and moving to New Jersey, “he did large murals for banks and other commercial entities and so began to flex into the right kind of space.” Carl also became known for sculptures and “so-called monumental art.”

Soon after their marriage, Kirtland and Carl saw an opportunity to start a weaving business. Kirtland (who had changed her name to Helen Carl) had studied fashion and worked as a dress designer in New York prior to moving to Mexico. She provided the creative genius behind the project. The Carls found some small dusty handlooms sitting in a forgotten corner of the Posada Ajijic and bought them from the inn’s owner, Josefina Ramirez. Helen Carl tracked down José Mercado, the man who had originally made and operated the looms, and persuaded him to move from Guadalajara to Ajijic, teach the art of weaving and make them some much larger looms, suitable for dresses, tablecloths and “yardage”.

The weaving business quickly became a success story, so much so that poor imitations of several of Helen’s original designs are still being made in Ajijic today!. The Carls paid a brief visit to Woodstock in 1952 so that Mort Carl, who was said to be considering returning to live in Woodstock at some point, could “make a survey on weaving in this village.”

By 1955, the looms in Ajijic were sufficiently well-known to be included as a side-trip from Guadalajara: “For handloomed fabrics you can drive to quaint little Ajijic (Ahheehic) on the edge of Lake Chapala, pick your own cloth from the looms of Helen and Mort Carl and then drive on to Jocotepec for the best selection of handwoven serapes in Western Mexico…” The quote comes from a travel article written by Bob Lamont (later the long-time editor of the Lloyd’s Mexico Economic Report and founding president of ARETUR, the Association of Tourism Writers and Editors) and his wife Margaret.

The weaving business quickly became a success story, so much so that poor imitations of several of Helen’s original designs are still being made in Ajijic today!

Carl Mort in 1955 (Credit: El Informador)

Carl Mort in 1955 (Credit: El Informador)

Coincidentally, 1955 was also the year when Mort Carl held an exhibition of his latest artwork in Guadalajara. The two-week exhibit of twenty modernist abstracts opened at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano-Norteamericano de Jalisco (Galeana 158, Guadalajara) on 20 October. The works had such uninspiring names as “Construcción en negro y blanco”, “Construcción vertical” and “Composición en color.” The artist was quoted as claiming that his paintings needed to be seen and felt, not understood. Carl had previously held a show of his paintings at Galeria San Angel (Dr. Galvez #23) in Mexico City, which opened on 17 March 1954.

Besides his writing and his art, Mort Carl was also an active sportsman, enjoying golf and tennis. In the late 1940s, he even built his own clay court (possibly the earliest such court at Lake Chapala) on a lot rented for the purpose behind the family home. The white lines for the court were made by Helen Kirtland out of bleached canvas and stapled (later nailed) in; they were “re-colored with whitewash every week.” The net was an old fishing net, complete with weights, bought from a local fisherman and adapted for its new purpose with the addition of a double-stitched canvas band, precisely in line with the sport’s official regulations “as per Encyclopaedia Brittanica.” Carl hosted regular tennis parties to which he invited friends from Guadalajara.

Unfortunately, life in Ajijic was not all a bed of roses for Mort and Helen Carl. For all his artistic sensitivity, Mort Carl was prone to violent outbursts, sometimes threatening even those he held nearest and dearest. The couple remained together until about 1960 when Mort left Ajijic and moved to Mexico City, where he set up a similar hand-loom weaving business.

After his attempts at reconciliation with Helen proved futile, Carl was undergoing treatment for elbow bursitis in a local hospital when he met a woman who had just given birth. Instantly smitten, he allegedly told her that if she sent her child to an orphanage for adoption, he would marry her and take her to the States: she did, he did and they did. Mort Carl and his new wife lived for some time in San Francisco before settling in Chester, New Jersey.

Paintings by Mort Carl were exhibited alongside woodblocks by Blance Small at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in San Francisco from February to May 1973.

In New Jersey, Carl became a moderately successful artist, specializing in large metal sculptures. The example in the image, which comes from the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog, is entitled Antiphon. The 2-meter high sculpture was acquired and installed in 1983 by Chester Public Library in New Jersey.

Mort Carl died in New Jersey in November 1985 and left his body to Columbia University Medical Center.


My heartfelt thanks to Katie Goodridge Ingram for sharing her personal knowledge and memories of Mort Carl, and to Sally Brander, Local History Librarian at Chester Public Library, NJ, for pinpointing the date of installation of Antiphon.


  • El Informador: 19 October 1955, 7; 20 October 1955; 22 October 1955.
  • Katie Goodridge Ingram. 2011. “Helen Kirtland Goodridge”, chapter in Alexandra Bateman and Nancy Bollenbach (compilers). 2011. Ajijic: 500 years of adventurers. Mexico: Thomas Paine Chapter NSDAR, 91-100.
  • The Jewish Independent: 29 April 1932, 2.
  • Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York): 12 September 1947; 8 October 1952, p 15
  • Bob Lamont and Margaret Lamont. 1955. “Guadalajara One Of Picturesque Places In New World”, Phoenix Arizona Republic, 3 April 1955, 65.
  • Oakland Tribune, 25 Feb 1973, 128.
  • Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 202017

Internationally renowned sculptor Felipe Castañeda was born on the shores of Lake Chapala. He was born on 16 December 1933 in La Palma (in the municipality then called San Pedro Caro, now Venustiano Carranza) at the south-east corner of Lake Chapala, where pre-Columbian artifacts are common. Castañeda’s lifetime in art shows the influence of millennia of sculptural techniques and creativity.

Felipe Castañeda. Kneeling Woman. date unknown

Felipe Castañeda. 1982. Untitled (Kneeling Woman).

Castañeda moved to Mexico City as a young man. In 1958, he entered La Esmeralda Painting and Sculpture Academy of the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City where he took classes in drawing, modeling, carving and constructive drawing. He quickly became especially proficient at carving and sculpting.

In 1962, after he married his wife Martha, Castañeda began working for the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. He also became assistant to the Costa Rican-born Mexican artist Francisco Zúñiga (1912-1998), a world renowned sculptor and the single greatest influence on Castañeda’s artistic career.

By 1966, Castañeda was already molding incredibly detailed plaster and clay sculptures when he turned his hand to working in stone. He now works mainly in marble, onyx and bronze. Many of his sculptures depict the female form, whether wife, mother, lover or friend. Castaneda’s harem of perfectly proportioned women are simultaneously both mysterious and provocative.

Castañeda held his first one-man show in 1970 at the Sala de Arte (Gobierno del Estado de Nuevo León) in Monterrey, México.

Felipe Castañeda. Gracia. date unknown

Felipe Castañeda. 1986. “Gracia”.

His major solo exhibitions include Galería Mer-Kup, Mexico City (1977); Mexican Art International, La joya, California (1978); Princes Hotel, Acapulco, Guerrero (1988); Hotel Pierre Marqués, Acapulco, Guerrero, (1980); Art Expo, New York (1983, 1984, 1985); Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico City (1988); 30 Años Galería de Arte Misrachi, Mexico City (1990); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Morelia, Michoacán (1991); Club Britania, Morelia, Michoacán (1991); the B. Lewin Galleries, Palm Springs, California (1982, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994); Le Kae Galleries, Scottsdale, Arizona (1995); Instituto Cultural Mexicano Israel-IbereoAmerica, Mexico (1996); Galeria Lourdes, Chumacero, Mexico (1997); Museo de la Isla de Cozumel, Mexico (1997); Mexican Cultural Institute, Los Angeles, California (1998); Whitney Gallery, Laguna Beach, California (1999); Alvarez Gallery, Laguna Beach, California (1999); “New Gallery Artist Exhibition,” Eleonore Austerer Gallery, San Francisco, California (1999); and the Anderson Art Gallery, Sunset Beach, California (2000).

Among Castañeda’s group exhibitions are numerous shows in Morelia (Michoacán), Zacatecas, San Salvador (El Salvador), San Francisco (California); and Palm Springs (California).

Castañeda, who has received awards for his work from UNICEF (1980), Israel (1996) and from the International Academy of Modern Art in Rome (1998), currently lives and works in Morelia, Michoacán. This 4-minute YouTube video (in Spanish) shows the artist at work in his studio:

Commissioned public sculptures by Castañeda can be seen in a number of Mexican cities, as well as in Palm Springs, California. Examples of his work are in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Art History in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, among many others.


  • Felipe Castañeda (Gallery BIBA, Palm Beach, Florida)
  • Felipe Castaneda (Artnet)
  • Felipe Castaneda (Artistic Gallery) [http://www.artisticgallery.com/biographies/castanedabio.htm – 20 Nov 2017]
  • Felipe Castañeda Jaramillo (Bio on his website “Estudio de la Calzada”) – http://www.espejel.com/estudiocalzada/bio.htm [20 Nov 2017]

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Oct 132016

Blanche Phillips Howard (1908-1976), the second wife of John Langley Howard (1902-1999), accompanied her husband in 1951 (the year they married) when they lived most of the year in Mexico, including a spell in Ajijic.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips Howard. Untitled metal sculpture.

Blanche Phillips was born in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania and attended Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, the Art Students League and the Steinhof Institute of Design, all in New York. She also studied at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), now called the San Francisco Art Institute. Blanche also studied with Ossip Zadkine.

She lived in the Bay Area 1942-1950, and again in the 1970s. She was best known for her sculptures, especially expressionist abstractions, made primarily in brass. Early in her career, she worked for a time with another, younger Bay area sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney, who also has links to Ajijic. In an interview years afterwards, McChesney recounted how Blanche had later told her that “she just couldn’t stand my arrogance as an young artist because I said I could never work in stone… because I couldn’t have that much patience to work that long. So I worked in clay because it was a faster material.”

Blanche Phillips Howard exhibited regularly at Stable Gallery and a major retrospective of her work was held at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, University of California, Berkeley in 1981.

Her solo shows included the San Francisco Museum of Art (1944); E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, 66, Sacramento (1946); City of Paris Gallery, San Francisco (1949); Louvre Gallery, San Francisco (1950); Galeria Artes Contemporaneo, Mexico City (1952); Ariel Gallery, Guadalajara, Mexico (1952); Roko Gallery, New York (1954, 1957, 1959); New Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts (1961); Silvermine Guild, Connecticut (1962); The Place, London (1969); and Galeria La Branza, Freestone, California (1974).

She had at least two two-person shows with her husband, the abstract impressionist painter John Langley Howard. The first (“Capricorn Asunder”) was held at the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery in 1973 and the second at the Bank of America Center in San Francisco in 1975.

Examples of her work can be found in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and in the Chrysler Museum at Norfolk (formerly Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences) in Virginia.

Both Blanche and her friend Mary Fuller were among the ten sculptors commissioned to produce pieces for the San Francisco General Hospital when the building was under construction in the 1970s. Blanche’s “Fragmentation”, a bronze dating from 1976, was installed in the Out Patient Lobby of the hospital. – Note: Can anyone confirm whether or not this sculpture is still there?

Blanche Phillips Howard was also the author of Dance of the Self: Movements for Body, Mind, and Spirit. (Simon & Schuster, 1974) While one review of the book labeled it “a dance philosophy that was practiced back in the Thirties in a small, obscure Greenwich Village studio” (The Times of San Mateo), Miriam Borne, a close friend and disciple of Phillips, has pointed out that it is most definitely not a “dance philosophy” but is “essentially a more spiritually oriented/esoteric dance form which developed within the stream of modern dance.” Borne describes the book as, “a course of lessons in moving meditation.” The book’s 53 lessons “progressively align and strengthen the body” and each of the “specific movement patterns” in every chapter “is allied to a symbol such as waves breaking, trees in the wind, puppets, logs rolling, elephants moving through the forest.”


My thanks to Michael Agostino (see comments) for prompting me to update this profile in July 2019, and to Miriam Borne for her valuable and insightful comments on the life and work of Blanche Phillips.


  • Mexican Life, August 1952, 47.
  • San Francisco Art Commission. 1978. San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center Collection.
  • The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California). 1974. “City picks artists for hospital.” 20 Jun 1974, 28.
  • The Times (San Mateo, California), 21 February 1975.

Related post

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jun 232016

Artist Daphne Aluta (1919-2017) moved to Ajijic with her then husband Mario Aluta in the late 1960s, and lived there for about twenty years. In September 1985 she was the first female artist ever to have her work featured in the Chapala area monthly El Ojo del Lago; all previous art profiles had highlighted male artists.

Daphne Aluta. Portrait. Courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

Daphne Aluta. Portrait. Date unknown. Courtesy of Ricardo Santana.

Born Daphne Craig on 24 June 1919 in Detroit, Michigan, she grew up in Evanston, Illinois, before studying at Cranbrook School for Girls and then graduating from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

In 1937 she married Richard Flu; the couple had a daughter, Stephanie. In 1941 Daphne married Frank L Greer and moved to Santa Barbara, California; they had two daughters and a son. Frank was an architect (he designed various public buildings in Santa Barbara) and it was only natural that Daphne, who loved sculpture as much as painting, began to help design homes.

Her marriage to Turkish painter and architect Mario Aluta, 15 years her senior, is recorded as taking place in Nevada in 1960. It is assumed that Daphne exhibited in the US before moving to Mexico, but no details of such exhibits are currently known.

During her time in Ajijic, in addition to painting and sculpting, Aluta designed and built several homes in the village. Aluta lived at various addresses in Ajijic, including Juan Alvarez 44 and, in 1971, Encarnación Rosas #20.

Daphne Aluta. Ajijic. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

Daphne Aluta. Ajijic. Date unknown. Reproduced by kind permission of Ricardo Santana.

As an artist, her group exhibitions in Mexico included the Casa de la Cultura in Guadalajara (1970); the “Fiesta de Arte” held at a private home in Ajijic (15 May 1971); the ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara (1980); the Club Campestre La Hacienda (1985) on the main Guadalajara-Chapala highway; and the “Help Save Lake Chapala” exhibit in Mexico City (1988).

The Lakeside artists exhibiting with Aluta at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense show in 1970 included Eunice Hunt; Peter Paul Huf; Mario Aluta; Chester Vincent; Bruce Sherratt and Lesley Jervis Maddock (aka Lesley Sherratt). Aluta’s acrylics were described as “strong and vibrant.”

Undated. Nude. Photo courtesy of Tom Thompson.

Daphne Aluta. Undated. Nude. Photo courtesy of Tom Thompson.

At the Fiesta de Arte in 1971, Aluta’s work hung alongside art by included Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Fernando García; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Eunice Hunt; Peter Paul Huf; Lona Isoard, Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michel; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery, John Peterson, Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Frances Showalter; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.

Painters from the Chapala area exhibiting alongside Aluta at the ex-Convento del Carmen in 1980 included Georg Rauch; Eleanor Smart; Betty Warren; Stefan Lökös and Gustel Foust.

At the Club Campestre La Hacienda exhibition in 1985, Aluta’s fellow artists included Eugenia Bolduc, Jean Caragonne, Donald Demerest, Laura Goeglein, Hubert Harmon, B. R. Kline, Jo Kreig, Carla W. Manger, Emily Meeker, Sydney Moehlman, Xavier Pérez, Tiu Pessa, De Nyse Turner Pinkerton and Eleanor Smart.

Other artists in the 1988 Mexico City exhibit included Nancy Bollembach, Luisa Julian, Conrado Contreras, Rick Ledwon, Georg Rauch, Enrique Velázquez and Laura Goeglin.

Daphne’s fourth husband was Colin MacDougall. They married in Ajijic in 1974, in a small ceremony at the home of Sherm and Adele Harris, who were then managing the Posada Ajijic.

After living in Mexico for 30 years, Aluta returned to the U.S. in 2000, to make her home in Ventura, California, where she died seventeen years later on 6 July 2017.


This is a revised and expanded version of a post first published 23 June 2016.


  • Santa Barbara News-Press, 11-15 July 2017.
  • Guadalajara Reporter: 13 June 1970; 27 Jun 1970; 3 April 1971; 31 August 1974.
  • El Informador: 5 June 1970; 4 May 1985; 26 January 1980.
  • El Ojo del Lago, September 1985.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

May 192016

Emil Armin (1883-1971) was born in Rădăuţi (Radautz), Romania, in 1883 and died in Chicago in 1971. He is assumed to have visited Lake Chapala at some point in the mid-1950s since one of his paintings, entitled “Morning Lake Chapala”, was hung in a no-jury exhibition of Chicago Artists in Chicago in February 1957. That exhibition was sponsored by The Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Art Organizations in cooperation with the Honorable Richard J. Daley, Mayor of the City of Chicago.

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Emil Armin. Self-portrait (1928), woodcut

Armin was raised in a Jewish family but lost both his parents at the age of 10 and was brought up by older siblings. As a teenager, he worked in restaurants to support himself, and took evening art classes, as well as learning English and French.

In 1905, when Armin was 21, he emigrated to the U.S. to join his brother in Chicago. Two years later he enrolled in night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, but his precarious financial situation led to him having to take a break from classes in 1911.

In 1913 Armin made several visits to the famed Armory Show which brought avant-garde artists such as Matisse and Cezanne to the attention of the American public. Both Armin and Emil Holzhauer (another painter of European origin who would later paint Lake Chapala) were inspired by the sharp contrast between these works and their own prior art training. In Armin’s case, an exhibition of works by Russian artist Boris Anisfeld at the Art Institute suggested an artistic avenue worth exploring.

Armin started taking formal classes at the Chicago Art Institute again in 1918, and after studying with Randall Davey and American realist painter George Bellows, finally graduated from the Institute in 1920.

He quickly became an active member of Chicago’s modernist art community, part of the 57th Street Art Colony in Hyde Park, and began to exhibit with the Chicago Society of Artists.

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

Emil Armin. Sunburnt Dunes (1942)

From 1922 to 1949, Armin was a regular exhibitor at the Annual Shows of the Chicago Art Institute, but also joined the No-Jury Society of Artists, established in 1922. The Society had been formed, according to the catalog of its first show, because “standards of the past… are chains by which the free development of art is hampered.” The Society considered that technique was less important than “honest, spiritual content”.

Armin, who exhibited in all of their shows, served for a time as the Society’s president. Armin also taught for a time (1925-26) at Chicago’s Hull House, a settlement house set up to receive recently-arrived European immigrants.

In 1926, Armin was a founder member of Around the Palette (renamed, in 1940, the American Jewish Art Club, and later the American Jewish Artists Club), and exhibited with them regularly throughout his life. His work was also part of the group exhibitions of the Renaissance Society in Chicago in 1931, 1941, 1946 and 1962.

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

Emil Armin. Pelicans and Fisherman (1966)

In the 1930s, Armin was an active participant in both the Public Works of Art Project and in its successor the Works Progress Administration.

Armin’s artwork included cartoons, woodblocks, paintings and sculptures. Though Armin also spent some time in New Mexico (1928), Maine, Mexico and elsewhere, Chicago was his home throughout his adult life. Armin’s subject matter varied, but he is particularly well-known for depictions of urban life in Chicago, as well as biblical themes and Jewish rituals.

Armin married Hilda Rose Diamond in 1945. Following his death in 1971, she worked with the Illinois State Museum to chronicle Armin’s career as an artist, resulting in a retrospective exhibition featuring more than seventy of his works.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

May 122016

Sculptor Carl Mose (1903-1973) visited Lake Chapala several times in the 1960s, though it is unlikely that he was artistically creative during his visits. Mose in described in the Guadalajara Reporter (6 March 1971) as a “many time visitor to lakeside.” Thomas Parham Jr.’s book, “An Affirmation of Faith” (Xulon Press, 2011), suggests that Mose also lived for a time in Mexico City, though the precise details and dates are unclear. Certainly he visited Mexico City on several occasions since he had many of his bronze sculptures cast there.

mose-carl-univ-of-iowa-brochure-photo-sCarl Christian Mose was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on 17 February 1903, became a naturalized U.S. citizen, served in the U.S. Army Air Force during the second world war, and died in New Windsor, Maryland on 21 March 1973.

The family emigrated to Chicago in the U.S. when Mose was seven years old. Carl Mose went on to study sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute, the Student’s Art League and Beaux Arts Academy in New York City. Interviewed in his studio in the farmland outside Westminster, Maryland, only a year before his death, Mose recalled that his teacher in fourth grade had urged the sculptor Lorado Taft to let him attend specialist classes. (Morning Herald, 18 September 1972). Mose subsequently worked with Taft for the next 15 years, but was also taught by Albin Polasek and Leo Lentelli.

In his early twenties, Mose and his wife Ruth Helming traveled to Europe on the proceeds of a Goddess of Speed radiator ornament that he had designed on short notice for the Studebaker Corporation. On their return, Mose began teaching at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. During the next few years, he undertook numerous commissions in the capital, including statues and keystone carvings in the Washington Cathedral and more than a dozen seven-foot low reliefs on the Potomac Electric Power Co. building.

Carl Mose, "Family Group" (1942). Maplewood, Missouri. Photo: Charles

Carl Mose, “Family Group” (1942). Maplewood, Missouri. Photo: Charles Swaney, Creative Commons.

In addition to three years at the Corcoran School of Art, Mose also taught at the Minneapolis Art Institute, Carleton College, and Washington University, St. Louis, where he was the head of the sculpture department for many years. Mose was an acclaimed lecturer. One University of Iowa publicity brochure (date unknown) proclaimed an “Outstanding American Sculptor in a Brilliant Demonstration Program that is Full of Wit and Humor.”

During his 25 years in St. Louis, Mose continued to undertake numerous commissions, including one of General John Pershing for the Capitol grounds at Jefferson City. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 19 August 1962 says that Mose is leaving St. Louis, after 25 years, to take up a post at the U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry in Washington D.C., where he will become responsible for designing military and other Government badges, decorations and medals. Prior to taking up his new appointment, Mose is spending several weeks in Mexico City “to supervise the casting of several recently completed works.”

Mose’s newest work in St. Louis is “a 12-foot bronze of St. Francis of Assisi” in Forest Park, in close proximity to another of his sculptures, “Figure of a Young Boy,” a bronze drinking fountain.

Mose’s sculptures can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute, and in federal and state buildings in Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Maryland and Washington D.C. They include that of Stan Musial outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis and a 21-foot bronze and granite piece, installed in 1958 for the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs. This particular 21-foot bronze and granite piece, “Eagle and Fledglings”, was cast in Mexico, and accidentally dropped from a crane during installation. The minor damage that resulted had to be covered up during its unveiling. Other works by Mose include the carved stone sculptures, “Land” and “Communication” (1940), either side of the entry to the (former) Salina Post Office, and “Family Group” (1942), a wood bas relief in the Post Office of Maplewood, Missouri.


  • Ronald Irwin Bruner. 1979. “New Deal Art Workers in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska”. Thesis. University of Denver.
  • Susan V. Craig. 2009. Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) (Online resource)
  • Marlene Park and Gerald E. Markowitz. 1984. Democratic Vistas, Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal. Temple University Press.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, August 19, 1962, p 19
  • The Morning Herald, Hagerstown, Maryland, September 18, 1972, Page 18

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

May 052016

The Clique Ajijic was a group of eight artists that existed as a loosely-organized collective in Ajijic for three or four years in the mid-1970s. Many of the photos of Clique Ajijic artists and their paintings were taken by John Frost, the artist-photographer who was a long-time resident of Jocotepec. The photo below (believed to be by Frost) shows several members of the Clique Ajijic, together with family and friends, at the opening of a show in Galería OM in Guadalajara in October 1975.

Clique Ajijic artists at opening of show at Galeria OM, November 1975

Clique Ajijic artists at opening of show at Galeria OM, October 1975

The Galería OM was co-owned by Enrique Lázaro and Alejandro Colunga.

If you can fill in any of the missing names, please get in touch.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Apr 072016

Melvin (“Mel”) Schuler (1924-2012) was a sculptor, educator and a co-founder of the Humboldt State University Arts Department. Shortly after commencing his distinguished teaching career in 1947 at Humboldt State University, he was one of six artists exhibiting at the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala in August 1949. The exhibit, entitled “Cuarta exposicion anual de pintura” (“4th Annual Painting Exhibition”) also featured works by Nicolas Muzenic; Tobias Schneebaum; Alfredo Navarro España; Shirley Wurtzel and Ann Woolfolk.

Sadly, so far, we have learned nothing more about his time in Chapala.

Mel Schuler: Cirice (2008); copper over redwood

Mel Schuler: Cirice (2008); copper over redwood

Schuler was born in San Francisco in 1924 and died at his long-time home in Arcata, Humboldt County, California on 20 May 2012.

After attending Yuba College (1942-1947), Schuler studied at California College of Arts and Crafts (B.A., M.F.A.), and the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen (1955-1956).

The Humboldt State University website describes how, “While working as an art professor at Humboldt State University he developed a form of sculpture characterized by tall, irregular, solemnly monumental columns in elegantly carved and finished black walnut; they were sometimes clustered and partly enclosed in “racks,” and suggested archaic runes and totems. In the 1970s he turned to carving rhythmically organic columns in redwood, which were then covered with overlapping plates of copper that formed scaly, armor-like carapaces, and given a rich green patina that suggested great antiquity.”

In the 1970s, the internationally renowned sculptor began to produce large abstract sculptures using old growth redwood carved into abstract forms clad in copper and fastened with bronze nails.

Museums that acquired his work include the Smithsonian, Hirshhorn (Washington D.C.), Palm Springs, Phoenix, Oakland, La Jolla, Portland, Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento) and Storm King Art Center (Mountainville, New York).

In 2013, a permanent gallery for his works was opened in Eureka, California. The Melvin Schuler Court Gallery, created by Dan and Jayne Ollivier, opened on the second floor in the Gross building, at corner of 5th and F streets.  Ollivier has been quoted as saying, “Mel’s sculpture has enormous presence. Mel would say to me, ‘If it sings to you, it is a great work of art.”

Schuler continued to paint, as well as sculpt, throughout his life; the walls of his Arcata home were adorned by his own paintings, displayed alongside art collected from his travels in Africa and India.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Mar 172016

American sculptor and painter Mym Tuma had her studio in San Pedro Tesistan, near Jocotepec, the town at the western end of Lake Chapala, from 1968 to 1973. Tuma, formerly known as Marilynn Thuma, has become an important figure in the contemporary American art world.

Tuma was born 23 September 1940 in Berwyn, Illinois. She studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, at Stanford University in California and undertook graduate work at New York University.

After university, she moved to Mexico, setting up a second floor plein air studio in San Pedro Tesistan to experiment with three dimensional works. This was a formative period in her artistic development, fostered by the support, moral and financial, of her mentor Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), the “Mother of American modernism”.

Mym Tuma: La perla (1970)

Mym Tuma: La hojancha (The Original Seed) (1970)

Tuma first contacted O’Keeffe, fifty years her senior, in 1964 when she was studying in Irving Sandler’s modern art seminar for postgraduates at New York University. Despite the age difference, O’Keeffe and Tuma discovered they shared several common interests. O’Keeffe, then living on a ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, bought one of Tuma’s early works, and the two women corresponded for a decade. (The story of this correspondence is told by Tuma at OkeeffeAndMe.com).

The studio in San Pedro Tesistan had neither electricity nor running water. In her “Feminist Artist Statement” on a Brooklyn Museum webpage, Tuma recalls her time there:

“In the high plateau of southern Mexico, overlooking Lake Chapala, I painted in remote San Pedro Tesistan. In that village were only two vehicles: a red Firebird, and a paneled truck, until I arrived in 1966 in a Volkswagen bus. I rented a studio for $8 per month and worked with an assistant, 17-yr. old Cruz Robledo who I taught to drive. She suppressed her giggles learning how to control the VW on cobblestone streets, rumbling down a string of plastered, cracked and chipped adobes. Women like Cruz worked at home, sewing and cooking, but she had a streak of independence. She did not let people, or men subordinate her. She grew more confident, while working on my sculptures, sanding fiberglass to smooth curves. She helped me prepare my paintings. Her mother still scrubbed clothes on rocks at the edge of Lake Chapala, her Aunt Deodata partnered with another woman near my studio. Cruz respected my work. I tutored her to become as independent as I myself.

In the Sixties, women lost children and we heard church bells tolling for them in my 2nd floor plein aire studio. Cruz crossed herself and whispered sad news. We’d rest to watch the peaceful blue haze over the distant mountains and breathe. We shared ideas sanding my shaped sculptured paintings, far from the conflict in Vietnam. I felt militant about my work, in that time and remote place, to quote T.S. Eliot, “to construct something upon which to rejoice.” Convinced that one day it would bolster women’s power and equality in the U.S.

Before I left, we strung a rooster pinata from the church to my studio, and invited mothers with babes, and small children. They filled the floor eating cake and cream. Women nursed babes in rebozos around us. Cruz decided to become a midwife to help reduce suffering she saw among her sisters. As difficult as living in Mexico was, its vibrant colors, forms of energy, and simple life inspired my organic principles. For centuries, rituals of planting and harvesting maize surrounded my studio. However my materials/methods were innovative and contemporary to the 20th century and beyond.

I showed an elderly American Modernist painter the forms I had so much theory about—Georgia O’Keeffe. We debated issues and theories. I created 17 sculptured paintings, traveling 3,500 miles to the U.S. and back, over five times to garner O’Keeffe’s fiscal mentorship.”

O’Keeffe’s letters to Tuma include many references to financial support. Perhaps the most poignant is the one dated 3 July 1968, shortly after Tuma has visited New Mexico:

“I am glad you came and were here a few days. Do not sell your car or part with your dog. I will send you the two thousand that you need to get your next three paintings done . . . . It may take ten days or two weeks. If I send it may I consider your black creation mine?”

The “black creation” was a fiberglass sculpture called Obsidian, which Tuma duly took north on her next trip to New Mexico.

After her time at Lake Chapala, in 1974, Tuma toured New South Wales and Western Australia, painting and sketching as she went, before establishing her studio on the East End of Long Island, New York. She is widely recognized for her work in the category of organic minimalism, which is influenced by oceanic and coastal forms, such as beach pebbles, sand, sprouting seeds, and spiraling shell forms.

Her “sculptured paintings” have been exhibited at many galleries, including Guild Hall (East Hampton), the Parrish Art Museum (Southampton village), and the Clayton-Liberatore Gallery (Bridgehampton), all in New York State. Tuma is a charter member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and lectured at the Brooklyn Museum in 1992.

Examples of Tuma’s sculptured paintings are in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington, D.C., the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford, Palo Alto, as well as in the private collections of Henry Geldzahler, Tipper and Al Gore, and others.

Tuma has also written several art-related books, including The Sea, the Simplicity of the Sea, and Other Poems, (Come to Life Graphics, 1984) and Radiant Energy, Light In My Pastel Paintings (2005).

Mym Tuma is yet another of the many famous artists who have found inspiration while at Lake Chapala, where the light, lake, people and scenery combine to stimulate creativity.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 012015

The full name of the pioneering painter and sculptor “Shaw”, who lived in Jocotepec from 1967 to the mid-1970s, is Donald Edward Shaw. Shaw was born in Boston, Massachusetts, 24 August 1934, and passed away in New Mexico on 26 December 2015. He always preferred to be known in the art world by his surname alone.

Shaw attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1954) and subsequently studied under sculptor John Bergschneider. He often worked in mixed media, and during the Jocotepec stage of his distinguished artistic career, specialized in presentations involving exquisitely-designed and handsomely-crafted boxes and box frames.

Shaw says that the primary influence of Mexico on his work was in showing him a different view of the formality of color, levels of brightness and color juxtaposition. “Colors become things, hence the serigraph for the Happening”:

Painting by Shaw for Chula VIsta Happening

Serigraph by Shaw for the Chula Vista Happening of June 1969

Shaw taught and lectured at several colleges and universities including the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Boston (1957), Harvard (1958; 1959), the University of Houston, Southern Arkansas University and Rice University. He was professor of painting at School of Art in San Francisco (1961) and gave workshops in Oakland, California (1963) and in Jocotepec (1967).

When he sought new inspiration in the mid-1960s, he flipped a coin to decide between Alaska and Mexico. and then, blindfolded, stuck a pin in a map of Mexico, thereby choosing the small coastal town of Barra de Navidad, where he came into contact with the indigenous Huichol people. Before long, as a result of a chance meeting with artist-photographer John Frost and his wife novelist Joan Frost, in a Guadalajara restaurant, Shaw had relocated inland, to the village of Jocotepec, where the Frosts resided, at the western end of Lake Chapala.

He first settled in Jocotepec in 1967 and lived there more-or-less full time until around 1972. For the following five or six years, he divided his time between Houston and Jocotepec.

During his years in Jocotepec, Shaw (described by a female admirer from that time as “drop-dead gorgeous”) was an active catalyst for local artists and became a tireless promoter of artistic events. Shaw’s friends and artistic colleagues in the Lake Chapala area included fellow serigrapher John Frost, Phyllis Rauch and her husband Georg Rauch, Tom Brudenell, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice (Hunt) Huf, sculptor Alice Bateman, poet Peter Everwine, poet-painter John Brandi, and many others.

Shaw was inspired by the power of indigenous music and culture, and greatly admired the pioneering work of Peter Everwine in revealing, through translation, the remarkable power of Nahuatl poems.

Shaw was a founder member of the local (Lake Chapala) art group known as Grupo 68 (founded in 1968), alongside Peter Huf, his wife Eunice Hunt, Jack Rutherford and John Kenneth Peterson. Grupo 68 exhibited regularly (most Sunday afternoons) from 1969-1971 at the Hotel Camino Real in Guadalajara, at the invitation of the hotel’s public relations manager Ray Alvorado (a singer) and also held many group shows in Ajijic, both at Laura Bateman’s Rincón del Arte gallery, as well as (later) in “La Galería”, the collective gallery they founded at Zaragoza #1, Ajijic. In addition, the group also showed in Guadalajara with José María de Servín, at El Tekare, and at Ken Edwards’ store in Tlaquepaque.

Allyn Hunt, reviewing a Grupo 68 exhibition held at the Tekare penthouse gallery in Guadalajara in July 1968, wrote that the show featured, “four highly independent artists (with four very different styles) who have the discipline, while regularly showing together, not to adopt a group means in approaching pictorial problems.” Hunt reserved particular praise for Shaw, saying that “Donald Shaw is probably this group’s most exploratory imagination, the one that when working at peak thrust, dominates technique and pictorial concepts most thoroughly.” (“Art Probe”, Guadalajara Reporter, 27 July 1968) 

In December 1968, when the four artists of Grupo 68 opened their own collective gallery in Ajijic, known simply as La Galería (at Zaragoza #1), the opening show, “Art is Life; Life is Art”, included works by a dozen artists, including Shaw. A review in Guadalajara Reporter said that,

“One of the best works in the show is hung here: Donald Shaw’s tour de force serigraph, “Spore Box”, presenting us with brilliantly-conceived chromatic ideas and imaginative forms which do not relay on optical illusionism, excessive optical vibration or three-dimensionality. This is undoubtedly the best serigraph Shaw – who has executed several series of rewarding prints – has produced.”

Another Grupo 68 collective show in April 1969 at La Galería, Ajijic, featured works by Shaw, John Kenneth Peterson, Charles Henry Blodgett (guest artist), John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Peter Paul Huf, Eunice Hunt, Jack Rutherford, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass.

In June 1969, Shaw joined with John Brandi and Tom Brudenell in arranging the somewhat presumptuous “happening” in Chula Vista, mid-way between Ajijic and Chapala. Shaw’s contributions to this event included bound-up figures, and prints of symbols.

In September 1969, Shaw, Peter Paul Huf and Eunice Hunt presented a show at Galeria 1728, Guadalajara, entitled 7-7-7, named because each artist presented 7 works, with promotional posters emulating the scoring system used in the Olympics:

7-7-7 show (Hunt, Huf, Shaw), 1969

7-7-7 show (Eunice Hunt, Peter Paul Huf, Shaw), 1969. Photo by John Frost.

In 1971, he may have been among the group of artists who exhibited on 15 May 1971 at a “Fiesta of Art”, held at the home of Mr and Mrs E. D. Windham (Calle 16 de Septiembre #33). Other artists on that occasion included Daphne Aluta; Mario Aluta; Beth Avary; Charles Blodgett; Antonio Cárdenas; Alan Davoll; Alice de Boton; Robert de Boton; Tom Faloon; John Frost; Dorothy Goldner; Burt Hawley; Peter HufEunice Hunt; Lona Isoard; Michael Heinichen; John Maybra Kilpatrick; Gail Michael; Bert Miller; Robert Neathery; John K. Peterson; Stuart Phillips; Hudson Rose; Mary Rose; Jesús Santana; Walt Shou; Frances Showalter; Sloane; Eleanor Smart; Robert Snodgrass; and Agustín Velarde.


D.E. Shaw: Untitled (1971). Mixed media. Photo credit: Rodney Susholtz

The image above shows a typical “decorated box” from this period. This piece, made of a Pepsi Cola box, wood, rock, bone, feathers and metal, measures 18″ (ht) by 14″ by 4″.

Two decorated panels, of a series of five known as “Jocotepec: Dream Series” (1968) were included in the exhibition “Wood in Art” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 1979.

During his time in Mexico, Shaw also did some graphic art, and designed the official logo for the Mexican news agency, Agencia Mexicana de Noticias (1968). In 1972, back in the U.S., he illustrated a cover for Southwest Art Gallery Magazine.

Shaw has divided his years since Mexico between Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico. He lived and worked in Houston for many years (where he was on the faculty of the Museum School of the Museum of Fine Arts), then had his studio in Pine Bluff, Arkansas for twenty years, before relocating to New Mexico, where his studio-home is in Guadalupita, in the mountains above Santa Fe.

While remaining primarily a sculptor, Shaw has enjoyed success in a variety of media. For example, in 1975, he arranged the first of several sky paintings, hiring pilots near Houston to leave trails of white smoke in specific patterns. In 1983, he designed and installed “Strata”, a 9-foot tall steel sculpture placed on the edge of the Balcones Escarpment just prior to the summer solstice. The semi-arid landscapes of Texas and New Mexico have inspired Shaw to develop new forms and works, including the small, two-sided, polychrome, sculpted steel “Betatakin” series.

Susie Kalil, in the brochure accompanying his solo show at the Arkansas Arts Center in 1988, writes that “Shaw switches gear from one medium to another without sacrificing craftsmanship or exact vision… [his] subjective interpretations are predicated by nature, rather than art fashion.” Later, she says that “Shaw is not your average artist. He is part philosopher, part poet, part outdoorsman. His interest in ritualistic activity is part of his constant investigation of how we experience time and place.””

Shaw’s major solo exhibits include Club 47, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1956); Nova Gallery, Boston (1957; 1958; 1959); Galeria de Artes Plasticas, Universidad de Guadalajara (1968); Mexico City (October 1968); La Galería, Ajijic (1969); The Small Store Gallery, Houston (1973, 1974); Videotaped Sky Drawings, Texas Gallery, Houston (1976); Robinson Gallery, Houston (1976); Kornblatt Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland (1977); Moody Gallery, Houston (1978, 1979, 1981); Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock (1979); Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi (1979);Transco Gallery, Victoria, Texas (1987); The Arkansas Arts Center (1988); Adair Margo Gallery, El Paso (1988); Taylor’s Contemporanea, Arkansas (1997); Baum Gallery, Conway, Arkansas (1998);

His group exhibits include the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (1956, 1957, 1959); Nova Gallery, Boston (1960); Allen Gallery, New York (1962);Pacific Gallery, Mendocino, California (1964); Gaspar Gallery, California (1967); Pacific Gallery, Mendocino, California (1967); La Galeria, Ajijic (1968); Rincón del Arte, Ajijic (1968); Galeria Palomar, Tlaquepaque (1968); Galería del Bosque, Guadalajara (1968); Arlene Lind Gallery, San Francisco (1968, 1969); Tekare Penthouse Gallery, Guadalajara (1969); Instituto Aragon, Guadalajara (1969); Vorpal Gallery, San Francisco (1971); Gallery of Modern Art, Taos, New Mexico (1971, 1972); David Gallery, Houston (1972);Biennial Invitational Exhibit of Texas Artists, Beaumont Art Museum (1974, 1978); Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi (1975); Louisiana Gallery, Houston (1976, 1978); Pelham-Stouffer Gallery, Houston (1977); Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin (1979); “Wood in Art”, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1979); Blaffer Gallery, Houston (1980); Art from Houston in Norway, Stavanger, Norway (1982); Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (2012).

Shaw’s work can be seen in public collections in Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington D.C.. For example, in Arkansas, sculptures or two dimensional pieces can be viewed at the Arkansas Arts Center and Bio-Medical Research Center in Little Rock, Hendrix College in Conway, Lyon College in Batesville, University of Arkansas Community College at Hope and Bank of America in Pine Bluff.

Shaw was survived by three children from two marriages: Rima Olga Shaw (husband Pascal Jean Marie Luigi Vinardel and Adam John Marrel Shaw (from his marriage to Marie-Therese Louise Marrel) and Robert Edward Cherry-Shaw (from his marriage to Pauline Ashley Cherry). Rima Olga Shaw is an established artist living in Paris.

[A massive thank-you to Shaw for his heartfelt support of this project, for having shared memories of his time in Mexico, and for allowing me access to many items from his personal library. I deeply regret that his creative genius was called to a higher plane before we had the opportunity to meet in person.]

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Aug 172015

Dated 1981, these Georg Rauch designs for a children’s playground demonstrate the versatility of this amazing artist.

Georg Rauch: Playground designs, 1981

Georg Rauch: Playground designs, 1981. Click image to enlarge.

Georg’s widow, Phyllis Rauch, has kindly shared the following recollections related to Georg’s interest in playgrounds, and to these designs in particular:

“Georg designed a number of large playground pieces for a famous park in Vienna. When he arrived in the United States he was still fascinated by the topic and we visited playgrounds wherever we went – especially in New York.

When we moved to Mexico, Georg designed a very large and amazing playground for the town of El Molino, near Jocotepec. At the time there wasn’t even a church there, only a bell. The completed playground, utilizing all things that are freely available and could be replaced, was inaugurated by the then Governor of Jalisco’s first lady.

Sadly the only thing we didn’t take into consideration was upkeep, a fund for replacing tires, ropes etc., and over the years it basically disappeared. But I’m sure there are people in their late 40s and 50s who remember it well and enjoyed playing there.

Georg’s first and only stipulation was that a bathroom first be built and installed.

Sometimes when returning from Guadalajara, I think I can see it still there, among the many homes that have since been built.”

When Georg Rauch later learned that the Lakeside School for the Deaf (now the School for Special Children) in Jocotepec planned to build new play equipment, he gave the designs to Gwen Chan, the school’s director from 1985 to 1994. Some of Rauch’s designs were subsequently incorporated into the deaf school’s play equipment.

Related posts:

Apr 022015

Georg Rauch was born in Salzburg, Austria, on 14 February 1924, and lived thirty years in Jocotepec, on the mountainside overlooking Lake Chapala, prior to his death on 3 November 2006.

Rauch had an adventurous early life. His memoirs (translated from their original German by his wife, Phyllis), described his wartime experiences. They were first published, as The Jew with the Iron Cross: A Record of Survival in WWII Russia, only a few months before his death. The self-published book was reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, with the new title of Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army. The memoirs are based on 80 letters sent home from the Russian trenches telling how Rauch, despite being officially classified as one-quarter Jewish, was drafted into Hitler’s army at age 19 in 1943 and sent to the Russian front. He was captured and spent 18 months in a Russian POW camp, where he contracted bone tuberculosis. After the war, Rauch spent two years recovering in Stolzalpe, an alpine sanatorium.

Rauch studied architecture for two years and life drawing with Professor Bőckl at the Akademie der bildenden Kűnste in Vienna, and was encouraged by his mother to pursue a career as an artist. He was awarded travel scholarships by the Austrian government. He exhibited and became a member of the prestigious artists’ association, Wiener Secession, and soon was showing his paintings in Vienna, Paris, London, Germany and Scandinavia.


In 1966 Rauch married his soul mate Phyllis Porter in Ohio. The couple, who had met in Vienna, lived briefly in New York before returning to Vienna in the winter of 1966/67, because Georg had been commissioned to produce the main sculpture for the Austrian Pavilion at the upcoming Montreal World Expo (1967).

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

In summer 1967, the Rauchs, together with fellow artists Fritz Riedl and his girlfriend (later wife) Eva, spent two months driving through Mexico, as far south as Tehuantepec. On their return trip north, the group stopped off in Guadalajara to visit the Austrian consul. The consul, an architect, purchased several watercolors completed during the trip, as well as 4 or 5 oil paintings that Rauch had with him. In the fall of 1967, the Rauchs returned to Guadalajara when the consul commissioned a sculpture for a shopping center being built in the city. The Rauchs remained in Guadalajara until 1970.

rauch-georg-red trees-s

George Rauch. Red Trees. 2002.

In 1968, Rauch was invited to do a series of posters for the Guadalajara Committee of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. (Mexico City had commissioned its own Olympics posters, but Rauch was responsible for all the posters produced in Guadalajara). One of these Olympics posters is mentioned in Al Young’s novel Who is Angelina?, during a description of a living room in Ajijic. Another Rauch poster (not of the Olympics) would later feature in the movie 10 (1979) starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, shot on location at the Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo. And yet another Rauch poster was once shown in an episode of the TV series Ironside.

It was during their stay in Guadalajara, that Rauch first met artist and photographer John Frost, who had a studio in Jocotepec and would later introduce Rauch to some of the finer points of silk-screening.

rauch-georg-Dream House-s

Georg Rauch. The Dream House. 2003.

The Rauchs spent most of the next six years (1970-1976) in Laguna Beach, California, where Phyllis headed the San Clemente Public Library and Georg participated in the city’s famous Pageant of the Masters. Georg made several yearly visits to Puerto Vallarta, where his work was regularly shown in Galeria Lepe, the resort town’s only art gallery at the time. (This is where Rauch drew portraits of both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as Liz’s son Christopher Wilding.)

In 1974, the Rauchs purchased property in Jocotepec and began to build their future home and studio. They moved into their (as-yet unfinished) home, designed by Georg, in October 1976. Rauch had finally found a place he could call home, and he would remain here for thirty years, painting a succession of expressionist oils, watercolors and silk screens, as well as building several extraordinary kinetic sculptures. Rauch was a prolific artist (completing more than 2000 oils in his lifetime), driven to paint, and to paint “only that which he needed and wanted to express.”

In December 1976, Rauch had work in a group show organized by Katie Goodridge Ingram for the Jalisco Department of Bellas Artes and Tourism, held at Plaza de la Hermandad (IMPI building) in Puerto Vallarta. The show ran from 4-21 December and also included works by Jean Caragonne; Conrado Contreras; Daniel de Simone; Gustel Foust; John Frost; Richard Frush; Hubert Harmon; Rocky Karns; Jim Marthai; Gail Michel; Bob Neathery; David Olaf; John K. Peterson; and Sylvia Salmi.

His clown-faced self-portraits bored deep into his soul. The influence of Lake Chapala was clear in many of his haunting and sensuous Mexican landscapes. On the other hand, his watercolors revealed his particularly keen sense of observation and his delicate touch. (Of course, I’m biased because I chose a Georg Rauch watercolor of Ajijic as the cover art for my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury, first published by Editorial Agata in 1993).

Georg Rauch was a consummate professional artist, one who was sufficiently successful throughout his career to live by his art alone. In conversation, he would sometimes interject a truly outrageous statement, but his wry sense of humor masked a considerable political perspicuity and an intense desire to interrogate the world around him.

In the 1980s, Georg and Phyllis Rauch expanded their home and opened the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast Villas, where Phyllis continued to welcome visitors, especially those with an interest in her husband’s art.

Georg Rauch’s work can be found in the collections of many major international museums. His numerous exhibitions include:

  • 1952 Konzerthaus in Vienna (first solo exhibition); and the Kűnstlerclub, Vienna.
  • 1953 to 1968 : London; París; Stuttgart; Vienna; Dusseldorf.
  • 1968 New York (Gallery York)
  • 1968, 1970 Galería Lepe, Puerto Vallarta
  • 1973 Toronto; Los Angeles
  • 1975 Guadalajara: Galería Pere Tanguy
  • 1977 Ajijic (Galeria del Lago)
  • 1979 Mexico D.F. (Alianza Francesa)
  • 1980, 1989 Puerto Vallarta (Galeria Uno)
  • 1982 Tucson, Arizona (Davis Gallery); Acapulco Convention Center
  • 1983 Guanajuato (University of Guanajuato)
  • 1984 Mexico City (Galeria Ultra)
  • 1986 Aarau, Switzerland
  • 1987 San Miguel de Allende
  • 1988 Guadalajara (major retrospective at Instituto Cultural Cabañas)
  • 1990 Munich (2)
  • 2000 Guadalajara (Ex-Convento del Carmen)
  • ???? Guadalajara (Galería Vertice) year-long traveling show, called Austrian Artists in Mexico, including works by Rauch, Fritz Riedl, Ginny Riedl and others.
  • 2007 Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)
  • 2014-2015 Guadalajara (Palacio del Gobierno del Estado); Chapala (Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo)

For more images of works by Georg Rauch, see Georg Rauch: Artist in Mexico gallery.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Mar 312015

David and Helen Morris were well-known potters who lived for several years in Guadalajara and Ajijic in the late 1940s and early 1950s, before moving to the San Francisco Bay area of California.

David Morris was born in 1911 in Washington D.C., where his father was a doctor at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Morris graduated from Georgetown University and was then employed in the city to head the arts section of the Work Projects Administration, a New Deal program, in the 1930s. This is when he first met Helen, a dance student. The couple married in 1937, and spent their honeymoon in Mexico.

During the second world war, Morris served in the U.S. armed forces in Europe and the Pacific. After the war, they returned to the Washington D.C. area for a short time where David Morris studied at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, presumably on G.I. Bill funds. He transferred his G.I. Bill tuition for a Masters degree in Fine Arts to the University of Guadalajara and the couple moved to Mexico in the late 1940s. (Their son Nicolas was born in about 1949).

David Morris had several works – one tempera, one watercolor, one monotype, and four ceramic pieces – included in the end-of-academic-year exhibition at the Fine Arts school of the University of Guadalajara in June 1951.

David Morris: Railroad Station at Lake Chapala. 1950.

David Morris: Railroad Station at Lake Chapala. 1950.

The family subsequently settled in Ajijic (they were definitely living there by mid-1951), where they became active members of the area’s growing artistic colony of the early 1950s. At this time, David was better known as a painter, though the couple were beginning to develop their extraordinary skills as potters. Among his Mexican paintings is an oil on board, entitled “Railroad Station at Lake Chapala”, dated to 1950, which was sold at auction in California in 2009.

While in Ajijic, the couple were good friends of black American painter Ernest Alexander (“Alex”), who ran the Bar Alacrán (Scorpion Bar) in Ajijic. Alex, his common-law wife Dolly and their son Mark, moved to the San Francisco Bay area at about the same time as David and Helen Morris did.

The couple returned to California in 1953, where they became political activists and began to work together as potters. Living and working initially at 701, Humboldt Street, David and Helen Morris began to produce exquisite ceramic pieces that quickly gained national attention.

David Morris was active on the committee behind the Sausalito Art Festival, held in November 1956, on the Casa Madroño grounds, and even performed as a singer at that festival. He continued to be actively involved in organizing several other Sausalito Art Festivals, including those held in May 1957, October 1957 (which drew record crowds of almost 20,000 over three days) and June 1958.

In June 1957, Morris was the spokesperson for a group of 60 freelance artists who objected to the regulations imposed for exhibitors by the organizers of the annual Marin Art and Garden Show, which, despite receiving public monies was open only to paid-up members of the Marin Society bf Artists. The freelance artists argued that entry should be open to all regardless of whether or not they were members; their petition was upheld by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

They were riding the crest of success when, in 1960, their first joint studio, in a former boatyard in Sausalito, California, was totally destroyed by fire. According to the last verse of a song written shortly afterwards by Malvina Reynolds, the blaze was not without its silver lining:

In the midst of smoke and ruin, old David Morris stands,
A look of wonder on his face, a pot shard in his hands,
It has a wond’rous color never seen on hill or plain,
And they’ll have to burn the boatyard down to get that glaze again.

(From “Sausalito Fire” by Malvina Reynolds, 1960. The song was published in her Little Boxes and Other Handmade Songs)

Undeterred for long, David and Helen Morris soon built a new studio in Larkspur, where they would go on to craft more than 10,000 pieces of stoneware and porcelain, some of which found their way into the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, and other museums.

The couple worked closely together and shared a single wheel in their studio. A contemporary account says that while David worked on the larger pieces, Helen crafted the smaller, more delicate forms. According to art critic Tom Albright, David Morris was particularly adept at creating “rich, lush glazes”, based on ancient Chinese techniques.

David and Helen Morris and their work were regularly featured in ceramics-related magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. For example the April 1960 issue of Ceramics Monthly had a photograph of the couple at work in their studio on its cover, and an illustrated 3-page feature article about them and the “crystalline” stoneware glazes they had developed.

Despite their aversion to taking part in juried shows, their stoneware won numerous awards, including a first prize in the Berkeley Art Show in July 1957.  In April 1958, David Morris was invited by the Artist League of Vallejo to highlight the official opening of their new building in Vallejo.

Helen Morris (born 24 February 1917) died on 6 December 1992, aged 75 years; David Morris died on 26 January 1999, his 88th birthday.

  • Design Quarterly. 1958. “Eighty-Two American Ceramists and Their Work” in Design Quarterly 42-43.
  • Malvina Reynolds. 1960. Little Boxes and Other Handmade Songs.
  • Sausalito News: 28 September 1956; 2 November 1956; 9 February 1957; 22 June 1957; 29 June 1957; 6 July 1957; 24 August 1957; 26 October 1957; 18 January 1958; 5 April 1958.
  • Stephen Schwartz. 1999. Obituary “David Morris“.  25 February 1999.
  • Yoshiko Uchida. 1957. Helen and David Morris: Pottery is Their Business, in Craft Horizons, December 1957 (Vol 17 #6)
  • Oppi Untracht. 1960. “David and Helen Morris”, in Ceramics Monthly, April 1960, (Vol 8 #4)
Mar 022015

American sculptor and art historian Mary Fuller (McChesney) and her husband Robert Pearson McChesney, also an artist, spent 1951-1952 in Mexico, living in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. Shortly afterwards, Mary Fuller wrote three detective novels, one of which was set in the Guadalajara art scene, using the pseudonym “Joe Rayter”.

She also wrote many short stories, poems, and articles, published in various prominent arts magazines including Art Digest, Artforum, Art in America, Craft Horizons, and American Craft. She was, at one time or another, a staff writer at Currant, a researcher for the Archives of American Art, a Ford Foundation Fellow and the recipient of the 1975 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Critic’s Grant. Another of her books, A Period of Exploration (Oakland Museum 1973), was written to accompany an exhibition of ab-ex (abstract expressionism) works from the San Francisco art scene from 1945-50.

rayter-stab-in-the-dark-coverIn the 1950s, McChesney wrote several detective novels, three of which were published, using the pseudonym “Joe Rayter”.

These included The Victim Was Important (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954) and Asking for Trouble (M. S. Mill / William Morrow, 1955), both of which featured Private Investigator Johnny Powers, and Stab in the Dark (M. S. Mill / William Morrow, 1955), a murder mystery set in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Stab in the Dark is about murder, infidelity, and dope-peddling among a group of oddball expatriate artists in Guadalajara. The Kirkus Review of the book describes how “An excess of loose libido-tossing, alcohol, sex and art accompanies the death of Mike Cowper, about to become a cocaine pusher, in  Guadalajara. The Mexican Inspector is not slow; young Madelene has to track down her  husband and escape attack; Payne, a painter, and his wife get free of their little daughter’s death; and Madelene looses the marriage bonds for another heart interest. An AWFUL lot of running around.”

While Stab in the Dark is hardly a masterpiece, it is a fun read even today. The characters seem two-dimensional and their actions are somewhat predictable, but the book describes several expatriate artists working in Guadalajara at the time, and makes various mentions of the 1950s art scene in Guadalajara, including the “Galeria Moderna”, as well as the famed restaurant La Copa de Leche. The book also has a few scenes set in the coastal resort of “Puerto Ortega”.

McChesney also wrote several erotic books using Melissa Franklin as her nom de plume, including Courier of Desire and Murder In Her Thighs, both published by Greenleaf Books of San Diego in 1969. Coincidentally, Earl Kemp who ran Greenleaf Books at the time was then living in Ajijic, having been forced to leave the US for his activities. For more details, see chapter 29 of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Comments, corrections or additional material are welcome, whether via comments or email.

Feb 122015

American sculptor and art historian Mary Fuller (McChesney) and her husband Robert Pearson McChesney, also an artist, spent 1951-1952 in Mexico, living in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. They moved to Mexico as a direct result of losing their jobs during the McCarthy era.

Mary Fuller McChesney was born 20 October 1922 in Wichita, Kansas. The family moved to California when she was an infant and she grew up in Stockton, California. Largely self-taught as an artist, she studied with Paul Marhenke at the University of California at Berkeley. During the second world war, she was a welder in the Richmond, California shipyard. She later apprenticed in ceramics pottery at the California Faience Company in Berkeley. She began to exhibit in 1947, and won first  prize for sculpture at both the 6th and 8th Annual Pacific Coast Ceramic Shows (1947 and 1949).

Mary Fuller: Frog and Owl

Mary Fuller Sculpture of Frog and Owl (Photo credit: Kurt Rogers, SFGate)

She married fellow artist Robert Pearson McChesney (1913-2008), in December 1949 and the couple lived initially in the North Bay subregion of San Francisco.

After deciding to head for Mexico in 1951, they sold Mary Fuller’s house, bought a Model A Ford mail truck, and headed south complete with all their belongings. Safely across the border, they decided to write “artistas” on the side of their vehicle. Robert McChesney later told a reporter that, “People on the side of the road would wave at us. Kids would come running out of their house to see us. It wasn’t until later that we learned that Mexicans used the word artista to mean ‘movie actor’.” (SFGate, 2002)

In a 1994 interview for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, Mary Fuller McChesney recalled that the artists’ hangout in Ajijic at the time they were there was the Scorpion Club, run by Ernest Alexander, a black American painter from Chicago. Some of the artists “were going to the University of Guadalajara on the G.I. Bill. So– And some of them lived in Ajijic and they would go into Guadalajara once a week to pick up their checks and go in to school and that was about it.” The Scorpion Club was the popular watering-hole for “a bunch of writers, too. Some of them from New York. Some people who ran a bookstore. And they were published writers. And there was a mystery writer down there.” (Oral history interview with Mary Fuller McChesney, 1994 Sept. 28, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Best known as a sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney was also a writer. Besides numerous short stories, poems and art history articles, she wrote several detective novels, including Stab in the Dark, set in the 1950s’ Guadalajara art scene.

On their return from Mexico in 1952, Mary Fuller and her husband began building their home on an acre of land near the top of the Sonoma Mountain in Petaluma. Largely self-taught as an artist, Mary Fuller McChesney had started to sculpt in the 1940s. She created many of her best-known projects in the grounds of their home on Sonoma Mountain. Many of her sculptures are made from a special mixture of vermiculite, sand, cement and water, which is then carved directly using a knife and rasp.

Much of her work is “reminiscent of pre-Columbian sculpture and African art, which profoundly influence her aesthetic and artistic guides.”

Her unique sculptures of enchanting animals and mythological women have been exhibited at numerous museums and galleries throughout the USA, and in Mexico.Her solo shows include Artists’ Guild Gallery, San Francisco (1947); Lucien Labaudt Gallery, San Francisco (1950); John Bolles Gallery, San Francisco (1961); Ota Gallery,  San Francisco (1972); and Santa Rosa City Hall, California (1974).

In addition her work has featured in numerous group shows in San Francisco and elsewhere, including Syracuse Museum, New York (1948); the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas (1976); and “Artrium 1976” in Santa Rosa (1976).

Her work can be seen in many public spaces, as well as in museums and private collections. Her public sculpture commissions in California include works for the Petaluma Library, the San Francisco Zoo, the San Francisco General Hospital, Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, Salinas Community Center, Andrew Hill High School in San Jose, Department of Motor Vehicles in Yuba City, and Squaw Valley.

Both Fuller and her friend Blanche Phillips Howard were among the ten sculptors commissioned to produce pieces for the San Francisco General Hospital when the building was under construction in the 1970s. Fuller’s “Dos Leones”, a cast stone aggregate sculpture dating from 1976 was installed in a courtyard at the hospital.

Mary Fuller McChesney died in Petaluma on 4 May 2022 at the age of 99.

This post was updated on 14 July 2022.


Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.